Krafts plot growth for their companies

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm

Krafts plot growth for their companies

By Andrew Weiland, SBT Reporter

Robert W. Kraft and his son, Robert M. "Bobby" Kraft, see a lot of each other during the work day.
Robert W. Kraft, 52, is the president and chief executive officer of Openfirst Inc., a direct marketing and statement processing firm.
Bobby is the president and CEO of First Edge Solutions, a quick-print digital reproduction and document management company.
The two growing firms occupy about 100,000 square feet of space combined in the same building, 300 N. Jefferson St., in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. Openfirst occupies about 80,000 square feet, and First Edge occupies about 20,000 square feet.
"It’s a very special thing," Bobby Kraft, said of owning a business in the same building where his father’s company is located. "We enjoy it every day."
By having their companies located in the same building, the father and son utilize synergies that allow them to attract business from each other’s customers. Some Openfirst customers need printing services from First Edge and some First Edge customers need direct mailing services from Openfirst.
"(The two companies) can do the full-service business printing for people all the way through mailing," said Bobby Kraft, 25. "It’s a huge value for customers, because they know everything is being controlled under one roof with the same eyes on it. They know everyone in this building communicates very well with each other."
The two companies recently expanded into an additional 8,500 square feet of the building, about 4,250 square feet for each firm. The two companies needed more production and storage space.
"We just needed the extra space for manufacturing, just to handle the work volume coming in," said Robert W. Kraft.
The two companies keep their operations separate and do not share equipment or even the same bank, although employees do walk through some common areas.
First Edge Ventures incorporated in February as a limited liability corporation to do business as First Edge Solutions. So far, the company is meeting its revenue goals, Bobby Kraft said. The company has grown from 9 to 15 employees in less than a year.
"We had a very aggressive plan in place," he said. "We have already been hitting those numbers. The growth we’ve experienced is truly awesome. We are extremely optimistic about what 2004 will bring."
First Edge creates documents for business communications, including manuals, brochures, newsletters, letterheads, flyers, presentations and business cards.
"We’re finding the need for our services may be greater than we were aggressively projecting," Bobby Kraft said. "Word is getting out."
Both Robert W. Kraft and Bobby Kraft attended the same college, John Carroll University, near Cleveland. Both played football there. Robert W. Kraft played quarterback, and his son played running back.
After he graduated from college in 2000 with a degree in business management, Bobby Kraft briefly played professional football. The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants considered signing him, but he signed with the Charleston Swamp Foxes, an Arena Football League team in South Carolina. That team traded him to a team in Georgia at the end of training camp. However, the financially strapped team in Georgia could not pay his moving expenses after the trade.
Bobby Kraft then decided it was time to give up on his football career and enter the business world.
"I knew the day football ended, business was in my blood," Bobby Kraft said. "Growing up, dinner conversations in my family were always either sports related, or hearing about my dad’s day at work."
Bobby Kraft worked in sales for AlphaGraphics, which was similar to Kinkos, for about 1-1/2 years. During that time, he worked on a business plan to start his own company.
In April, his new company acquired the assets of AlphaGraphics as part of a receivership action.
Bobby Kraft said First Edge strives to be flexible with customers and to respond quickly to their needs.
"The key is businesses want to operate quicker and more efficiently," Kraft said. "If we can help that a little bit, if we can save them a day every time they have a project and treat them right, I think it’s good for everybody."
Robert W. Kraft formed Openfirst in 1996, when the company was known as Electronic Printing Systems Inc. The firm was acquired in 1999 by Cleveland, Ohio-based Target Marketing. Target officials decided to move their company to Milwaukee and place Kraft in charge.
A consulting firm helped the company choose a new name, and they selected Openfirst, which became the firm’s new name in 2001.
Openfirst has grown to a company with 500 employees. About 100 employees work in Milwaukee, and the rest work in Franksburg, Va. The company continues to grow.
"We’ll be up 26% as a company on revenues over the last year," Robert W. Kraft said. "We’ll mail in excess of 500 million pieces of mail from the two locations (this year)."
Both father and son say they enjoy having their businesses located in the Historic Third Ward.
"It’s just a neat area," Robert W. Kraft said. He particularly likes the building’s location along the bus lines, which helps the company’s employees get to work.
The city provides an ample supply of workers, a key advantage over the suburbs, Robert W. Kraft said. The company has hired several W-2 workers.
"You’re really better in the city because the people are in the city," Kraft said. "There are a lot of people that need work in the city. Many companies have moved out of the city, and it’s a mistake."
Openfirst has a diverse group of employees. About 17% are foreign-born, and about 70% are women and/or minorities. There are five languages spoken by the employees.
"We’re proud of that (diversity)," Kraft said.
When Bobby Kraft watches the Openfirst production operations, he looks for ideas to improve his own business.
"I walk around here with my eyes and my ears open all the time," Bobby Kraft said. "This is what’s fun every day. Trying to figure out how to grow successfully."
Both Krafts believe the future of their companies is bright.
"This year our objective was just to drive growth, improve cash flow and improve the business model," Robert W. Kraft said. Openfirst plans to acquire other US firms that do direct marketing and statement processing, he said.
Despite the proliferation of email and Internet web pages for communication, businesses still rely on the printed word for employee manuals, sales materials and other internal and external communications, Bobby Kraft said. He is confident businesses will still need his company’s services for years to come.
"Every company needs to communicate either internally and externally," Bobby Kraft said. "Paper is always going to be here. Paper is going to be here for a long time. Radio came along, and newsprint didn’t die. TV came along, and radio didn’t die."

Dec. 12, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display